CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- They lead very different lives. CaCoe Manley is a 39-year-old college student with three kids and a brand new baby. Amanda Hager, 30, mothers two boys while her husband works in Charleston.
Rachel Jeffers, 28, pumped her milk at work for months, to take home for her baby. Samantha Lane, 27, quit her waitress job because the manager wouldn't let her do the same.
Erica Mason, 25, works as a breastfeeding counselor for the Kanawha County WIC program. Maggie Sammons, 35, left her grade-school counselor job to stay home with her baby.
All six say their first few weeks of breastfeeding were tough and exhausting, then it got a lot easier. All say their children are not overweight and almost never sick.
The American Academy of Pediatrics would not be surprised. Breastfeeding lowers the mother's breast cancer risk and her children's risk of many medical problems, the AAP says: obesity, bronchitis, pneumonia, allergies, asthma, colds and infections, leukemia, sudden infant death syndrome, and others.
The mothers agreed to give readers a glimpse of this little-discussed part of human experience.
After Rachel Jeffers, 28, of Charleston, went back to work full-time at Humana Inc., she pumped milk at work so she could keep nursing her baby.
"A woman has to nurse her baby or pump her milk or it will dry up. After I went back to work, I pumped every few hours, till he was about 12 months. I thought about where I could pump before I asked [to do it]. They said OK and were really supportive. I appreciate that. It doesn't happen at every job.
"It wasn't a big deal. My pump is hands-free, so I could bring my laptop in the room, close the door and continue working while I pumped. Every day, I brought a cooler bag with four bottles to work. When I got home, I stuck the full bottles in the fridge for the babysitter to feed him the next day.
"Breastfeeding burns 500 calories per day. Some mothers use it to lose weight. I ate 500 calories more.
"Lucas is 17 months now, and he's eating a variety of foods. Overall, nursing has been great. It creates a special bond. If he bumps his head, he runs to me and wants to nurse. It's a comfort thing.
"But the first few weeks were rough. When babies are born, their stomachs are really small, so they want to eat all the time. Lucas wanted to nurse round the clock. I wasn't prepared for that. I was the only one who could feed him, so for a few weeks, I never got a break. One session might last 45 minutes, then I'd have an hour break, then he'd be wanting to nurse again.
"Breastfed babies eat small amounts on their own schedule, so they don't get overfed. People who are used to bottle feeding may get concerned when they see the baby eating so often at first. They may think there's something wrong or think you're not making enough milk. But it's normal.
"Once or twice, late at night, I thought about a formula bottle, but I resisted. The coach at Women and Children's said it would get a lot better within weeks, and it did."
Logan County native Amanda Hager, 32, researched breastfeeding on the Web so she'd know what to expect with son Cormac.
"People think a new mom and baby automatically know how to breastfeed, like magic. It doesn't work that way. My first baby had problems latching onto me. I had lots of milk, so that problem could have been solved in the hospital if there'd been someone to help me.
"When I got home, my grandma told me, 'Well, just stick him on there!' My pediatrician said, 'He's not getting enough food. Give him a bottle.' My mom breastfed me, but she died before I had my first baby, so I couldn't ask her for advice.
"People my age take whatever their pediatrician says as the word of God. But doctors don't always tell you the whole story. They don't always say, 'Let me tell you all the good things you and your baby could get from breastfeeding.'
"I didn't know how to shift him around so he'd latch, so I got scared and put him on formula. I regret that now. He missed the immunities. He gets a lot of colds and earaches, a lot more than my second one.
"The second time I got pregnant, I did tons of Internet research. A lot of Twitter friends breastfeed, and they gave me advice. By the time the lactation consultant saw me in the hospital, I was completing her sentences.
"Cormac's 9 months old now, and he's never once been sick. He wore me out nursing the first few weeks, but I expected it, so it was OK. Since then, he's been easy.
"After the first weeks, it's much easier than sterilizing and washing baby bottles and buying formula. I've got his food supply right with me.
"I feed him when we're out, but don't get in people's faces. The other day, in Target, he was hungry, so I put a hood up on his baby carrier and fed him. Only twice I've had people say, 'Don't you want to go to the bathroom and do that?' I want to ask, 'Do you eat in the bathroom?' but that would be rude, and it's a chance to educate them. So I'll say, 'I'm just feeding my baby, and this is the best thing for him.'"
Teays Valley mother Samantha Lane, 27, recently quit a waitress job because the management wouldn't let her pump milk on her break. She is helping raise a blended family of five kids.
"I truly love the process of breastfeeding, the closeness of it, the bonding time. Aubrey's four months now, and she'll probably be my last child, so it saddens me to think that I'll never do this again. There's nothing like the feeling of sitting quietly in a chair nursing, knowing you're giving your child the absolute best, that it's flowing from you to her.
"My first baby didn't latch at first. The nurses kept saying, 'We can always give him a bottle. Here, try this bottle. We'll put it on the nightstand in case you want it.' I finally gave up and fed him the bottle because I thought, well, I guess I can't breastfeed.
"It's good they're getting nurses to quit doing that. I was just 17 and I didn't have patience. I thought something was wrong with me. But I was determined to breastfeed my next child. I'd read about the immunities and brain development and all, and I wanted him to have that. So I nursed him till he was 14 months.
"But it was too late for my first son. He's 10 now. For years, he was sick, bad colds, serious stomach problems. My second child has been sick maybe five times in his whole life, mostly colds. I can't prove it, but I think breastfeeding made him healthier. I feel bad about that.
"When I nursed my second child, I worked for CAMC housekeeping, and they let me pump milk every four hours or so. So when I started my waitress training, I asked about pumping for my 5-month-old. The woman trainer said 'We can probably work that out.' But once I started, the manager said, 'Don't even ask about it.'
"I quit. I'll find another job.